Build Lebanon Trails group all about getting local residents on their feet

Lebanon’s developing network of trails is no secret to most residents, but the people behind it might be.

The trails system is largely the handiwork of Build Lebanon Trails, a group of devoted organizers who’ve put in a lot of elbow grease and are now seeing their efforts proliferate.

“Some of the community still doesn’t know what BLT is,” said Jan Diamantine, who’s been with the group since it was founded by Rod Sell and Jim Ruef in 2005, and now serves on the nine-member board. “It’s a dynamic organization. Everyone works hard and we have a common goal. It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished.”

It’s also taken a lot of careful planning, which started from the beginning, Sell said.

Largely retired from a 22-year career with the city, most recently as a district manager in the Maintenance Department, he’s used his connections to work with city officials and staff to coordinate BLT’s goals with existing city plans and facilities – particularly parks, he said.

“I have a real passion for parks,” he said. “Trails just worked into that.”

The group’s mission, simply, is the establishment and maintenance of more than 50 miles of multi-use – hiking, biking and walking/running – trails throughout the community. After 12 years they have achieved about a quarter of their eventual goal.

They include the Northside Community Trail, which runs along Highway 20 and around and through the Samaritan Health and neighboring developments north of town; the Marks Slough Loop Trail off Tennessee Road and along the South Santiam River, the West River Trail, which runs from River Road to River Park; and the North Shore Trail system in Cheadle Lake Park.

There are also water trails already under way at Cheadle Lake, and in the works on the South Santiam, Sell said.

“There are a lot of steps to building a good trail system,” he said, noting that the Lebanon Arts Commission recently commissioned an Oregon State University student to develop new signs for the trail system.

Sell said it took BLT and the city two years to develop the Lebanon Strategic Trail Plan, which coordinates with existing city plans, and has been approved and adopted into the city’s Parks Plan.

“BLT worked behind the scenes to fulfill the plan for 50 miles of soft-surface and hard-surface trails,” he said.

A lot of the funding for the trails has come from grants, applied for largely by Sell, who is “very good at writing grants,” Diamantine said.

Sell said local residents should see significant additions to the system in the near future, as various existing segments are linked together – such as the West River and North River systems, which will be linked by a short leg between River Road and the North Shore trailhead on the north end of Cheadle Park. Another on the short list is connecting Had Irvine and River parks.

He said many property owners have been willing to grant easements to allow trails to be built across their land and some new subdivisions will be required to include trails when they are built.

“We contact the owner before a property is developed and say, ‘We’d really like to get that trail developed. What can we do to help you do that?’” he said. “We can really save the developer a lot of money.”

The current board, made up of Sell, Diamantine, Nancy Hildebrandt, Jessica Ruef, Carrie Stimson, Jim McKinnon, Thad Nelson, Nick Wilson and Tate, is the best BLT has had, he said.

Hildebrandt said watching board members in action was what attracted her to BLT.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen nonprofit people who didn’t want to be big ducks in a small pond,” she said. “There’s just a lot of energy and working hard. A lot of boards are distant, making decisions. This board not only makes decisions but gets out there. They’re watering trees, they’re building trails.”

Members have contributed not only a lot of hands-on time on the trails, but also in areas such as redesigning BLT’s website and incorporating state-of-the-art video logs and drone flyovers, which are in the works.

Users will soon be able to find a trail on a posted map, click on it and see a video presentation on the trail.

“We know a lot of people use the trails, but we know lot of people who use trails are not aware of BLT,” said Hildebrandt, who brings marketing and web design experience to the table since arriving from “off the grid” in California three years ago.

Sell said as many as 200 people at a time participate in the group’s free trail events, which are generally held the second Saturday of each month at 9 a.m.

He said the most popular is the Peterson Butte Hike – on April 14 this coming year, which allows hikers to cross property that is normally closed to the public.

Another popular event is the group’s only real fund-raiser, its annual Cheadle Lake 5K/10K Run Run/Walk and Kids Obstacle Dash, on May 5 next year.

Sell said they get some help from the Lebanon High School cross-country program in staging the races.

The obstacle race is a big draw, “an entity all its own,” he said, crediting Diamantine, a grandmother and (in her own words), “a jogger,” with its success. Last year’s event had 20-some obstacles, he said.

Diamantine promises some new features this year. The race, she said, is a lot more than fund-raiser.

“We’re trying to get kids off the computers and out on the trails,” she said. “Everybody’s a winner. Everybody gets a toy, a goodie bag and a ribbon. They all have bib numbers as well.”

The cost for the kids is just $10, and a local doctor has promised to fund the first 100 to sign up, Diamantine said.

Community meetings, open to the public, are held the first Tuesday of each month at Lebanon Samaritan Community Hospital.

For more information, visit buildlebanontrails.com or facebook. com/buildlebanontrails.

Now that the group has momentum and is seeing its projects coming together, a big goal is to get the community involved in the creation and maintenance of trails. To that end, BLT holds monthly events, which are strategically themed for various interest groups among trail users, Sell and Hildebrandt said.

“Our customers are the people who use the trails in Lebanon,” Hildebrandt said. “Seniors, bicyclists, high school kids, dogs, paddling – we want to have events for various groups. We’re trying to appeal to more different parts of the community.”